My mother took me to the Bronx Zoo when I was tiny. She knew one of the zoo keepers, a heavy set woman with long thick black hair who cared for the elephants. I remember the day at the zoo so faintly, mostly I remember big concrete moats that kept me too far from the animals. But I still have the souvenir that my mother bought for me at the end of the day. Its made of golden cardboard and a label on top announces Old Fashioned Cabinet of Animals * 20 drawers, each with a different unbreakable animal inside. Children love opening each drawer, playing with the animals and then putting them back. Safe, non-toxic. Made in Hong Kong.
Amazingly, I have schlepped the little box around with me all these years, and the drawers the size of match boxes still contain every animal—a tiger with faded stripes, an elephant with pink ears and eyes, a camel with two humps, a baboon, who is larger than the elephant and has a purple face and red eyes, an alligator with yellow eyes, a luridly orange leopard with green eyes, a lion who cannot stand, a pure white polar bear with red eyes, a hippo the color of rust with his mouth agape, an ibix with horns so delicate they seem to be antennae, a gorilla the color of brick with enormous and slightly obscene breasts with nipples, a penguin with a confused expression, an ant eater who looks somewhat like a yorkshire terrier, a rhinoceros with red lipstick, two unidentifiable creatures . . . one is green and one is the color of grapejuice, they both are low to the ground and aardvark-like, but they are not aardvarks, they look as though they would kill snakes and poison you if you ate them and they probably dwell in inhospitable places like the Australian desert. Anyway, there is also a zebra sporting red eyes and he, like the lion, cannot stand, his legs are very spindly. There is a bear who is grey with tiny pink ears and a red mouth and he looks more like a mouse than a bear, and this leaves my two favorite animals in the collection; an elegant little llama who is the color of caramel and a lead colored worthog who wears the most fabulous tusks.